Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Rob Mercer's Tuesday Night Paddle

I had the great pleasure of returning to one of my formative paddling experiences last night, & heading out on one of Rob's famous Tuesday night paddles. It was a beautiful Sydney evening, with a light sou 'easterly, bugger all swell & a bit of wind chop to make things interesting around the tall cliffs north of Sydney Harbour's southern headland. In a big group of 14 paddlers, it was very clear that this was a bunch of sea kayakers with a much higher than average overall skill level. The ethos for the Tuesday night paddle has always been the same - go out in summer or winter, light or dark, & even if conditions are marginal go & get a taste of the sea. From the protected launch inside Watson's Bay, this means that on some nights the adventure might be simple as a trip across the heads to Quarantine Bay, while on better weather occasions the goal is to head as far north as Manly & have a surf off the reef at Shelley Beach, or south along the tall cliffs of Dover Heights to the headland of Bondi.
The Tuesday night paddles were the first sea kayaking experiences I had where I really challenged myself, pushing beyond the boundaries I was willing to go to on my own, safe in the knowledge that the likes of Rob, Sharon Betteridge, Andrew Eddy, Paul Loker & others were there first of all to set the boundaries, & then to haul me off the rocks, out of the water, when I invariably messed things up. Looking around the seascape as we paddled out of the harbour I noted the calm conditions, & the horrendous things I've seen happen on bigger days. Like Vince the Invincible surfing his old Greenlander onto a rock behind south head & swinging upside down trying to do an Eskimo roll without any water to grab with his paddle. Or the oyster covered rocks I sailed onto in a howling nor 'easter when I first had a go at sailing (by coincidence with Vince's sail, sheet clenched between my teeth & wrapped around my paddle for extra security), and got wedged on, also upside down in a mess of lines & sails & seaweed. Last night wasn't a sea state for this sort of madness, & we ambled south close to the cliffs tyring to invent mischief to trip up Matt Bezzina, world famous kayak blogger, who was leading the paddle to complete his Sea Leader's assessment. We backed into caves, tried a seal landing at the Gap, did co-ordinated group rolls in the bumpiest stuff we could find to try to produce a swimmer for Matt to direct a rescue, & surfed & played in the bounce & chop. Bugger - everyone in this group has a solid roll, so the call went out for offside rolls. Instead of swimmers, we had a few successful rolls, a few who had a couple of goes & then went back to their onside to come back up, & the couple who did stay true to the blue requesting a re-enter & roll before they were subjected to an assisted rescue.
Paddling skills were on show too, people using their bodies to steer & use the sea around them, lots of aggressive edging even in the more challenging sections, & plenty of performance paddling. I seem to remember a bit more of a cruisy atmosphere back 6 or so years ago when I was a regular, but wouldn't swap it for the great paddling I saw on display last night. I've put together a short slide show (click the image above) - it takes about a minute to load so please be patient.

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